September 11, 2019
By Osman Benk Sankoh
To many Sierra Leoneans, the name Sedyu Sadaka may be a distant reality, but for the two hundred and seventy-five boys and girls between age five to fourteen at Oba in Funkia, the Spain-based musician is God sent. Like most parents in the predominantly fishing slum community at Goderich in the outskirts of Freetown, fishing is the source of livelihood. With extreme poverty, and scant opportunities for growth, the likelihood for the kids growing up in the slum area to take over from their parents as fishermen or women and fishmongers was great. Thanks to the Diamond School of Arts and Culture, the kids now have a real shot at life beyond the bay area.
Sadaka meaning charity in Arabic and loosely translated as a gift in his native dialect, through his Development Corporation NGO, bestowed the ‘Diamond Child School of Arts and Culture,’ as a gift to the fishing community some thirteen years ago for a reason. For the Palm Wine music exponent, “there was an urgent need to enhance the sustainability of Sierra Leone’s rich cultural heritage lest it dies a natural death”.
With warm embrace from the Goderich community, Sadaka’s dream for a cultural centre was made a reality when they ceded a land with an old building to carry out the project. The school described as the only centre in the country dedicated to the socio-cultural and artistic development now sits at a land measuring three hectares and located in a bay between a nursery school and a government school.
The Sierra Leonean born Sadaka is doing what he sang in his song, ‘Return to Africa’ by taking his love back to the motherland and at Funkia, Goderich. In the long term, there are plans for more workshops for youth and adults but for now; it operates as a full-time primary school with additional subjects on Sierra Leonean culture: music, dance, storytelling, theatre, gara and batik and catering. The also hold afternoon sessions for young people aged 15-35 who are keen on learnings arts and culture as well as vocational skills training. For both programs, students are drawn from the deprived, orphans, street workers and former combatants of the country’s civil war who could not afford to pay school fees.
Born Anthony Seydu to a Fullah Mandingo mum and a Lebanese father, the 54-year-old Vocalist, Songwriter, Percussionist and Luthier left the shores of Sierra Leone at an early age when he eloped to Europe for greener pastures in the early 80s. In Spain, he raises funds through grants, partners, music concerts and other events to keep the school going, and the government is not supporting the school. Himself from a difficult childhood, the artiste, once a member of the National Dance Troupe want to ensure that, “every year, hundreds of less- fortunate boys and girls from the slums of Funkia access schooling instead of being on the streets selling” .
In his music, Seydu blends traditional melodies and rhythms of Palm Wine music from Sierra Leone with subtle influences from the Middle East. Moreover, it is that impact he wishes to pass on to the current crop of students at the school. “with this school, we are creating a big opportunity for deprived boys and girls to be able to access education at no cost and also for them to be impacted with the special values and respect for Sierra Leonean culture.”
Later in July, Seydu will travel with a team of eighteen under -14 kids and officials from the Diamond Child School to represent the country at the Donosti Cup 2019 Tournament in San Sebastian, Spain. He plans to get them to play in Madrid as well. (Update: The team won the silver trophy at the competition but their success was overshadowed by the disappearance of two of the players)
However, with all that the Kissy born Sadaka is doing for the community, he has had to deal with numerous challenges especially from a particular section of the community who do not value the importance of arts and culture and are hellbent on selling most of the land the school is now occupying. For him, “I will always try to give a chance to a crop of a young generation of artists in support of the county’s art which was seriously broken as a result of the civil war, Ebola and poverty.” He also believes that there are people in the community that have always supported the vision of the school. “Our students are the protagonists of the school”, he said.
In Freetown, the school is managed by a team of Directors, and it is fully registered with the Ministry of Education.
On a typical day, you will see kids with happy faces clapping and stamping their feet to the tunes of traditional folklore. At other times, you will hear them reciting their Multiplication Table in readiness for a ‘hot mental’ from one of the teachers. Boys and girls go in and out of their classes for some practical lessons on ‘gara- tye dying’ or to play the talking drums or some traditional instruments. The school is a beehive of activities for the diamonds in the rough that Seydu and his team hope to properly polish and put out to the outside world as worthy Ambassador of Sierra Leone. Honestly, Sadaka has done a lot for the community but without the support of others, his vision for the School of Arts and Culture may die, and the poor kids may return to the streets. Help is all they need.
(Courtesy HIDDEN VOICES SALONE magazine– www.hvsl.org )